Caracas: Thumbing his mobile phone, Jonathan Figueroa sits on his doorstep in a desperate daily quest for a Wifi signal to download his homework. Battered by the pandemic and economic collapse, Venezuela’s lost generation of schoolchildren have little chance of linking up regularly with online classes given the country’s fickle internet coverage.
The 14-year-old doesn’t even have the luxury of virtual classes at his school in a poor district of Caracas, where the cost of computers is out of reach for most families. Instead, what little interaction he has with teachers is limited to voice messages and assignments delivered on WhatsApp.
“It’s complicated. Sometimes I don’t understand anything at all,” said Jonathan. In some ways, he is one of the lucky ones, because his mother’s employer gave him a used tablet. But amid routine power blackouts and random internet availability, Jonathan feels overwhelmed and increasingly estranged from his school environment. “Not only am I doing my homework badly, but I’m wasting time,” he said.
The cost of a smartphone or tablet represents years of savings for families in a country where, according to a survey by leading universities, eight out of 10 people live in extreme poverty.
Venezuela’s desperate economic crisis means that when the internet is working, the connection is among the world’s slowest. A survey by the Speedtest site in August ranked the South American country 169 out of 174 countries in broadband speed.
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